Plan your trip to the northern coast of Scotland and enjoy a road trip around the most scenic landscape in the world with this relatable and reliable guidebook, detailing not only the best and most popular sights along the route but also the hidden gems that most overlook.
Orders for the most in-depth travel guide to the North Coast 500 are now open.
If there is one reason that the North Coast 500 attracts so many people every year it’s to visit the pristine white sandy beaches around the coast. The north and west coast of Scotland especially have some of the best beaches you will find in the whole of Scotland.
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The Best North Coast 500 Beaches - Unbelievable Beaches in Scotland
In this guide we are sharing with you the best beaches on the North Coast 500 and those that keep tempting us back for more. We have broken down these beaches into where they are located and when you will pass them if you are travelling the route anti-clockwise.
It is important to note that none of these beaches have lifeguards so if you decide to swim at these beaches you are doing so at your own risk.
- East Coast Beaches on the NC500
- North Coast Beaches on the NC500
- West Coast Beaches on the NC500
- Preparing for your trip to the NC500.
East Coast Beaches
There are a number of beautiful beaches on the north east coast of Scotland. In this guide we have also added in some beautiful beaches on the Black Isle as many visitors to then NC500 take this short detour to the Tarbat Peninsula. If you are sticking to the main route of the NC500, then the first beach that you will come across on our list is Dornoch.
Rosemarkie beach is a beautiful beach on the Black Isle, around 30 minutes from Inverness. If you follow google maps, you will want to set the map to the public car park in Rosemarkie as if you follow the directions to the beach, you will find yourself at a road with No vehicle access to the beach. The Rosemarkie beach cafe sits on the north side of the beach, serving food and drink and it has toilet facilities.
Shandwick beach is a beautiful sandy sloping beach running east from the harbour at Balintor. There are rock pools at either end of the beach where marine life live at low tide. Toilets are available at the harbour and there are water facilities on the side of the building.
Shandwick Beach is dog friendly all year round and a very popular beach for dog walkers.
Portmahomak is a very quiet town on the Tarbat Peninsula on the north east coast of Scotland, just south of the Dornoch Firth. It is located in Easter-Ross and is a small fishing village
Portmahomak is a very quiet town so this beach doesn’t tend to become overcrowded. There is a small amount of parking in Portmahomak for the beach which is free to use.
There is a beach promenade that is lined with benches and there are pubs and cafes in the area with outdoor seating looking out to the beach too. Public toilets are available in Portmahomak within walking distance from the beach.
If you are camping in this area, Portmahomak Caravan Site overlooks the beach and is within close walking distance to the town.
Dornoch beach is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach that goes on for miles! It sits within walking distance from the quaint town of Dornoch, one of the first stops north of Inverness. The soft white sand is met with a sand dunes and a lush long grassy embankment.
The beach has gentle shallow water which is perfect for paddling or swimming. When it is low tide, you will be walking quite a distance before you get any swimming done though!
The beach is popular with dog walkers throughout the year and it is possible to walk along the beach at both high and low tide.
There is a small beach car park level with the beach that is suitable for small vehicles. Dornoch Beach Wheelchairs is located here and is a brilliant way to make the beach accessible for everyone. If this interests you, make sure to book in advance.
There is a larger car park for motorhomes and overflow parking beside the children’s play area.
Feeling peckish? The Highland Larder sits in the car park for your food and drink needs whilst you are at the beach and the toilets are just further down the road from there.
One of our favourite beaches on the east coast of the NC500 is Embo beach. This is a popular beach in the summer months for swimmers, fisherman and dog walkers. The beach itself sits beneath the small village of Embo, sheltered by grassy sand dunes. There is free parking in Embo as well as public toilets and some shops. The beach is a 5 minute walk from here.
Brora Beach isn’t necessarily visible from the main road of the NC500, turn right at the Co-op and follow the road towards the sea.
Brora Beach is an award winning beach on the north east coast of Scotland. The white sandy beach is pristine and stretches along a number of miles in front of the Brora golf course. Brora beach is perfect for a morning or evening stroll, having a picnic or going into the sea for a wild swim.
Brora Beach can be accessed through Brora campsite or you can park in the golf car park to access the beach. Parking is free. Brora beach is dog friendly and there are bins to get rid of your waste when you leave the beach.
Reiss Beach is a gorgeous stretch of white sand hidden by sand dunes, just outside of the town of Wick on the east coast of the NC500. It sits just past a golf course and has a small car park for those visiting the beach. This beach is very popular with wild swimmers and is perfect for a sunrise visit. There are no facilities at this beach and it is accessible by foot by taking the wooden steps down a small slope onto the beach. There are stunning views across to Castle Sinclair and Castle Girnigo from this beach.
Keiss Beach is located at the end of a very narrow road and has space for a small number of cars at the end of the road. There are no facilities at this beach however it is another beautiful white sandy beach on the east coast of Scotland.
The nearest amenities are in the small village of Keiss a short drive away.
North Coast Beaches
The north coast of Scotland is where you will start to see some of the most pristine beaches. These beaches are found at the eastern and western end more so than the centre of the north coast.
Bay of Sannick
A very secluded and untouched beach on the NC500. On the road towards the Duncasby Stacks is the unofficial parking area for this beautiful beached there is room for maybe 3 cars. The bay is small and reasonably sheltered with glistening clear blue water. The beach is reasonably inaccessible to those with poor mobility due to the walk across uneven terrain to reach the beach and then walking through the sand dunes to access the beach.
One of our favourite stretches of white sandy beach on the NC500 is Dunnet Bay. This is the most northernly beach on the north coast of mainland Scotland. There are toilet facilities and a large car parking area for the beach which is popular among surfers. Dunnet Bay Campsite overlooks this beautiful beach, however it does not take away from the quietness of the beach due to the sheer size of it.
Coldbackie Sands is one of our favourite hidden beaches on the NC500. This beach is accessible by climbing down a steep hill down the cliff through a carved path. There is a small pull in area at the side of the road where you can park to access this beach. Follow the path down to the beach and enjoy the white sandy beach overlooking the Kyle of Tongue all to yourself. There are no facilities at this beach.
Follow the epic scenery on the A838 past Loch Eribol from Tongue and you will arrive at Ceannabeinne Beach. This beach sits under the mountain Beinn Ceannabeinne who sits proudly at 383 metres high. Ceannabeinne Beach is one of the most impressive beaches you will come across if you are driving the NC500 in an anti-clockwise direction.
The large expanse of sand is accessed by climbing down the grassy cliff along the man made dirt paths. There is free parking overlooking the beach and you can expect this to always to be relatively busy. This area is really popular for wild camping on the NC500 and you may notice a number of tents pitched along the cliff if you arrive at sunrise or sunset.
The car park is also popular for those wild camping in a camper van on the NC500 due to the incredible views over the beach. There are no amenities within walking distance of Ceannabeinne Beach.
Sango Sands is an incredible stretch of sand sitting in between the cliffs. The sand is so clean and the water is so clear. There is a campsite, Sango Sands Oasis, that sits overlooking Sango Sands Beach and from here you can access the Sango Sands Viewpoint. This viewpoint is a raised wooden platform overlooking the bays on either side.
There is parking around the area and public toilets beside the Spar.
Balnakeil Beach could easily be missed as it is hidden off the main track of the NC500. Follow the main road through Durness and past Smoo Cave. Take the turn off towards Cocoa Mountain and follow the road all the way to the end. At the dead end you will see a small car park for Balnakeil sitting overlooking another beautiful white sandy beach. There is a small car park with more parking round the corner beside the golf course.
West Coast Beaches
Saving the best till last, the west coast of Scotland is said to have some of the best, and most remote and untouched, beaches in the country.
Sandwood Bay is one of the most remote beaches in Scotland and is situated 11 miles from Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain.
Sandwood Bay is not an easily accessible beach as it requires walking 4 miles from the car park across moorland. The best place to park is at Blairmore where you will cross through a gate and follow the path to the coast.
There are no amenities at this beach and it will never be overly busy due to the effort required to get there.
Oldshoremore Beach is located near Kinlochbervie at the end of a very narrow steep road. There is a small car park at the bottom with toilet facilities. The beautiful white stretch of sand is only a 5 minute walk away from the car park. There is a basic parking area across from the car park where you can camp overnight for a small donation.
Clashnessie Beach is a small and beautiful bay with a rocky inlet and plenty of pristine white sand meeting the tranquil turquoise water. Clashnessie Beach has a mild micro-climate due to the closeness of the Atlantic Ocean Gulf Stream.
The Clashnessie Falls sit a short walk upstream and are worth a walk to. There is a large pull in area off the single track road that can be parked in to access the beach.
Clachtoll Beach is accessed by driving through the campsite to the small parking area. There are toilet facilities here and a boardwalk to access the beach from the car park. Clachtoll Beach is small but continues to have that beautiful white sand that has been a common theme around the NC500 beaches. Look out for basking sharks and other marine animals in this area. You may just see them out in the distance.
Hidden along a narrow windy road on the north west coast of Scotland is one of the most popular beaches on the North Coast 500, Achmelvich Bay. Surrounded by sand dunes and cliff faces the white sandy beaches are met with the clearest blue water. Being on the west coast of Scotland, Achmelvich Bay is a great place to watch the sunset from the beach over the sea.
This beach is accessed by foot from a medium sized car park.
There is a campsite that overlooks the beach, as well as the NC500 Pods glamping area. These don’t take away from the remote beach feeling as if you follow the small hill you will see another secluded cove.
Before You Leave on the North Coast 500
Before you head off on your trip around the NC500, there are certain things you will need to get organised to ensure a smooth trip. These include how to get around the route, including being aware of single track roads, etc., what to pack for Scotland, where to stay along the route and what travel insurance to book.
How Do I Get Around the NC500?
Given the remote location of the NC500 and the majority of the sights along the route, the best way to get around this road trip is by driving. There are of course other methods that are still popular, such as cycling and hiking, however, if you have a short amount of time on the route, neither of these are very suitable.
As for public transport, the use around the NC500 is understandably difficult due to how remote each location is, however, with the increasing problem of congestion along the route, this is a good option to research if you have time. If it is something that interests you, you can read a public formed itinerary of how to get around the NC500 by public transport over here.
If you are looking to rent a cosy, reliable and luxurious campervan for your trip along the NC500, we highly recommend hiring through Bunk Campers. We toured with these guys around the up-and-coming Heart 200 road trip in Scotland’s central highlands and could not believe the comfort and customer service we experienced with their vans.
What Should I Pack for the NC500?
When it comes to packing for a trip along the NC500 there is one item of clothing that you are going to need all year round: a waterproof. It rains in Scotland on average 250 days a year, meaning that during your 7-day NC500 road trip you will probably experience at least a drizzle of rain. Due to this, the number one item on any Scotland packing list is a good waterproof jacket.
As for the rest of the year, the temperature in Scotland and the central heartlands is reasonably mild for most of the year. During the winter months, you will most likely experience snow, however, temperatures usually sit around freezing, so it is not too cold. For your reference, the average temperatures in Scotland are listed below during each season.
Spring (March, April, May) – 5-10 degrees C
Summer (June, July, August) – 15 degrees C
Autumn (September, October, November) – 5-10 degrees C
Winter (December, January, February) – 0-5 degrees C
As you can see, the weather never really gets above the teens, with anything over 25 degrees C considered a heatwave. The best way to pack for your trip to the highlands is with layers that can be added and removed as you need them. You will definitely need a hat and gloves during the colder months and will most likely need sunscreen to protect you on the long days in the open.
Given the beautiful sights and scenery that you are no doubt going to see around Scotland, we highly recommend packing a good camera for your trip. If you want to read more about the cameras we use and why we love them, check out the link below.
Where Should I Stay on the NC500?
The remoteness in the highlands of Scotland will leave you with little choice of accommodation in each location along the NC500, however, there are still enough options to choose from to ensure a comfortable trip. These are mostly in the shape of B&Bs, Airbnbs, converted cottages and other quirky accommodations.
Depending on how adventurous you are, there may be more accommodation choices than just the above, often with an even better view. Caravan and camping sites are abundant along the NC500, drawing camping enthusiasts from all over the world. For some of the most spectacular bedside scenery along the North Coast 500, we recommend packing a tent and getting in touch with nature for the week.
As we travelled along the North Coast 500, camped in our trusty Vango tent on a mixture of campsites and wild sites. Wild camping is a fantastic way to enjoy the beauty of the highlands, however, it must be done respectfully. Read our full guide to Wild Camping if you wish to give it a go so you know everything you need to for a comfortable and sustainable trip.
What is the Best Travel Insurance?
No matter what type of adventure you are heading on, whether it is a mountain adventure or a relaxing beach destination, one thing we all need to be aware of is that accidents can happen. The last thing you want is for an unexpected medical emergency to ruin your trip of a lifetime. Luckily, that is what travel insurance is for.
Whenever we travel abroad, we get covered with World Nomad’s Travel Insurance, a reliable, friendly and extremely affordable method of covering yourself on any adventure. With years of experience working for backpackers around the globe, the service they provide is perfect for whatever type of trip you have planned.
So there you have it, all of the best beaches along the North Coast 500. If you have visited the NC500 recently, let us know what you thought of the beaches listed above, or if you have any suggestions of other beaches let us know in the comments below.
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- Unmissable Things to do on the NC500 Route
- North Coast 500 Packing Guide – What You Will Need for the NC500
- 7-day North Coast 500 Itinerary – FREE, Detailed and Unforgettable!
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